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The anointing of Yammer as the winner of TechCrunch50 has raised questions about how the startup-launch conference operates. Michael Arrington, the founder of TechCrunch, has made much of the fact that he and fellow event organizer Jason Calacanis don't charge startups to present at the show, as established rival Demo does. But people who attended the show are saying behind his back that the contest was rigged in favor of a pet startup of Arrington's with ties to one of the event's sponsors.Yammer is a business-friendly copy of Twitter. It's an offshoot of Geni, a Web-based genealogy site started by former PayPal COO David Sacks, which raised $100 million in venture capital last year. TechCrunch50's prize panel, composed of Arrington and a few TechCrunch insiders (shown here, in a spy photo taken at the event), passed over more promising startups like FitBit, the maker of a wellness-monitoring gadget. Quality aside, a sense of fairness might have led Arrington to give Yammer the skip: Neither Sacks nor Geni needed the $50,000 prize. Arrington's crush on Geni has been obvious since before its launch. (Most recently, he claimed Geni had close to a million visitors a month in August; according to a link to Arrington himself included in his writeup, it's actually 400,000, a fraction of the audience enjoyed by established genealogy sites like and MyHeritage.) The problem with events like this is no one is unconflicted. But Sacks is in particularly deep: His former boss at PayPal, Peter Thiel, now runs VC firm Founders Fund, one of TechCrunch50's sponsors. Arrington has long been rumored to favor startups backed by the VCs who sponsor his event. He brags that he doesn't charge startups directly to appear on stage. But he seems to like to have them in his pocket, one way or another.